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Homemade Vitamin C Serum

2012 December 19

Do you remember the Creme de La Mer craze from the late 1990s?

No? You were still in middle school? And totally not caring about wrinkling skin? Well, alrighty then (harrumph).

Here’s the back story. The skincare label, La Mer (owned by Estee Lauder), launched a crazy successful PR campaign for its flagship product, Creme de La Mer. The product received over-the-top, ravingly positive reviews in all the top fashion and life style magazines, and even little ole, fashion-blah me was well-versed in the many benefits of the “Miracle Broth” contained within.

Miracle Broth, people. Who wouldn’t want to put Miracle Broth on their skin? Who couldn’t believe that Miracle Broth wouldn’t solve all of their skin problems? It was the must-have skincare product of the ’90s, hands-down.

A small pot of Creme de La Mer and its fermented seaweed Miracle Broth cost a cool $100. I had to save up for it. $100 was insane for department store cosmetics at the time, but every woman my age wanted Creme de La Mer. After months of tucking $5 away here and there, I headed down to Saks 5th Avenue (Cincinnati has one in the heart of downtown) and forked over the cash, flush with the anticipation of that elusive, glowing, flawless skin they promised, no matter the skin type.

Disaster. Creme de La Mer was one of life’s hard lessons learned. I have problem skin — the crankiest crank skin ever grown on a human body, I think (rosacea, dry skin, and acne). Usually, my skin reacts favorably to new products at first, but then breaks out a week or two later, signaling failure (Ha ha! it snorts. Psych!). But not in this case, no sir. By only Day 3 my skin had developed a flaky, blotchy red patina that took days and prescription ointments to subside.

The “me” of today would’ve marched right back to Saks with a polite but firm, “No, thank you,” and gotten my money back. The “me” of Y2K meekly tucked the jar away in my sock drawer and sulked over my gullibleness and empty wallet.

I haven’t been perfectly reformed, as I still slip now and then and spend more than I should on cosmetics, but by and large, I’ve learned to ask for sample sizes before committing to any large purchase. Thank goodness for sample sizes. And, over the years, I’ve figured out what ingredients are certain to trigger a rosacea flare-up. Lanolin is a big one (and a primary ingredient of Creme de La Mer, natch).

I now have a small suite of go-to products that work for me, and I rarely stray from that path. But, lately, I had been hearing more and more about the benefits of Vitamins C and E when applied topically to the skin, and wanted to research and experiment.

As I learned, the benefits of each are quite impressive, if modern science holds to be true (and we know how that sometimes goes, right?).

Vitamin C has the potential to:

  • Produce collagen, which aids in the growth of cells and blood vessels that give skin its firmness and strength.
  • Slow the rate of free-radical damage that causes dryness, fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Help skin repair itself by creating scar tissue and ligaments for quick recovery from damage.
  • Reverse DNA damage.
  • Reduce sunburn caused by exposure to ultraviolet B radiation and prevent the consequences of long-term sun exposure, which can lead to skin cancer.
  • (Source)

And, Vitamin E has the potential to:

  • Neutralize free radicals and prevent cell damage.
  • Reduce sunburns from exposure to UVB radiation with long-term use.
  • Protect and repair skin — especially scar tissue, thanks to its antioxidant properties.
  • (Source)

There’s probably not a product on the market that doesn’t boast Vitamin C as an ingredient, but here’s the thing. Vitamin C is highly volatile and breaks down very quickly. By the time a skincare product is packaged, shipped, shelved, and hits your cart, the Vitamin C within is already well on its way out of town. The yards-long ingredient list you’ll find on these products is the manufacturer’s desperate attempt to stabilize this beast. Which translates to low Vitamin C benefit for your skin, plus a daily schmear of random chemical soup.

So, after some googling, I found an alternative: homemade Vitamin C serum. Made in small batches from $15 worth of purchases, I calculate my skin will be draped in beneficial Vitamin C for at least a year.

Here’s the basic idea: dissolve pharmaceutical grade Vitamin C crystals (available at health food and drug stores) in distilled or purified water. From there, you can add other ingredients to create a customized formula for your skin. Since the Vitamin C mixture must be made in small batches to remain viable (because there are no preservatives added), you can easily adjust your formula with the next very-low-cost batch. No more post purchase dissonance. No wasted, mostly-full bottles and jars lining the dresser.

Here’s my personal formula:

3/4 teaspoon Vitamin C crystals
2 teaspoons distilled water
1/4 teaspoon witch hazel (optional, for its astringent properties)

Add the ingredients to a small jar and shake vigorously now and then over the course of several hours. (The mixture will appear cloudy at first, but as the Vitamin C dissolves, it will turn crystal clear.) Store in a dark location, if your jar lets in light (Vitamin C is light sensitive).

This produces a fairly high concentration of Vitamin C. For your first batch, you might want to start lower — say, 1/2 teaspoon of Vitamin C to 2 teaspoons distilled water. If you feel a burn upon application, reduce the amount of Vitamin C even further, then work your way up as your skin becomes accustomed to it.

I like this formula as-is — it’s refreshing when swabbed on with a cotton ball — but you can also add other skin-loving ingredients, such as topical Vitamin E oil, vegetable glycerin, 100% aloe vera gel, any of which will serve to make the mixture thicker, resembling a commercial product.

To apply, dip a cottonball in the Vitamin C mixture and spread over face, neck, and decolletage. Don’t forget your neck and chest. Trust me. The skin there deteriorates practically overnight. In my case, all was well and good and firm and smooth until this summer, when v-neck t-shirts, a shameful lack of sunscreen, a scorching sun, and general neglect left deep creases along my shoulder blades (developed, I theorize, by the scrunching-over-reaching-forward position typical in gardening). A disturbing wake-up call, that was, noticing those creases in the mirror for the first time, as the skin on my face has a fairly light wrinkle load, all things considered.

Anyway. After the Vitamin C dries, I top that with a light coating of Vitamin E oil. For my purposes, keeping the ingredients separate means I have day-to-day control over the treatment of my skin. (If the weather is hot and humid, for example, I’ll skip the morning application of Vitamin E oil. When it’s cold and dry, as it is now, my neck and jawline get an extra coat.) I don’t add glycerin at all because I love how the water-Vitamin C solution feels light and cleansing, rather than syrupy and heavy. I might try aloe vera in the spring, when I get the inevitable early season sunburn from working in the garden for long stretches.

It’s been months now, and my super cranky skin is quite content with this regimen. As is my wallet.

As for the sun damage on my shoulder blades and chest, I’m happy to report that, while the creases are still present, the skin has smoothed out and lost much of its slightly-leathery look. (I also use an exfoliant once a week.) I would expect that any number of commercial products would achieve similar results, but the benefit here is price ($15 for a year of Vitamin C treatments!) and ingredient control.


This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, nor shall it be interpreted as specific prescription or usage advice and is published as a general guideline only.


13 Responses
  1. Martha C permalink
    January 19, 2013

    Love this! Can’t wait to try my own. I too am a skin obsessed miracle cure junkie. This is very intriguing from a cost perspective as well as the control factor of the junk/chemical nasties in most commercial products. Thanks for the info!

  2. Maria Teresa permalink
    January 29, 2013

    You MUST have a cream with vitamin A in it if you are looking to bring the elasticity back to your skin, making it look and feel smooth. You also need Hyaluronic acid. Why? As we age, our body produces less and less of this important acid, affecting how moisture is stored in our skin. I use Lady Soma’s Renewal Serum because it has both those ingredients in 1 serum, and its been getting me the results I have been looking for.

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      January 29, 2013

      There’s a lot of unsupported hype concerning hyaluronic acid and its effects on aging skin (supporting skin appearance is the least use of hyaluronic acid in the human body, unless you count lip-plumping injections). I’m also, quite honestly, hovering my finger over the spam button, as this comment sounds suspiciously like a product promotion.

    • Paige permalink
      July 26, 2013

      If you want something with Vit A. try adding a few drops of rosehip seed oil to your face. Its gentle enough to apply directly onto the skin, soaks in quickly, and it moisturizes the skin. It also has Vit. A. and it known to fight wrinkles ect…

  3. Jay-Jay permalink
    May 22, 2013

    Sounds promising – goes to search eBay for vitamin c.

    I just wanted to say about your skin reacting badly to a product after a couple of days – thank goodness, first time I’ve come across someone who experiences the exact same thing as me. After a couple of days the sides of my eyes start to sing a little and get bumpy, even after discontinuing use I end-up with cracked red blotching – costs a fortune, especially because it’s really tricky to identify any particular ingredients that may be causing problems, even if you can identify the particular product.

  4. karl b permalink
    July 17, 2013

    I have been using vit A with results. Now l ll be adding C and E. Thanks.

  5. Marie Costilla permalink
    July 26, 2013

    I was wondering how long does this serum last before the vitamin c oxidizes? I’ve heard of people making new batched everyday but that’s a lot of work. Any idea if this is good for several days or a week?

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      July 26, 2013

      I make a new batch every week. Vitamin C in liquids turns pale yellow when past its prime. I find this happens at about the two week mark.

  6. Coco permalink
    August 6, 2013

    Thank you for the fabulous tips! I am going to try this and I cannot wait! Thanks again, I really appreciate the research and thought you put into this.
    Blessings, Coco

  7. Sarah permalink
    November 3, 2013

    First off I love ur super easy recipe , ive searched the net for the recipe but ur’s is the best so far. I use aloe vera gel (instead of water). I really dont like the sticky feeling of glycrine as an ingredient!
    I have acne prone skin which obviously leave scars and vitamic C alone wasnt really helping my skin, its when i ‘experimently’ added vitamin e gel it worked STRAIGHT AWAY! My acne heals up quicker, scars fade 10x quicker, skin is more supple and not to mention texture is more even

    I find that vitamin c alone didnt give me 10% of the result that I get with vitamin e addes to it! I’ll definately try witch hazel instead of aloe vera and report back :)

  8. Janet Moore permalink
    November 19, 2013


  9. imelda permalink
    December 23, 2013

    HI, i just wonder which products has more high vit c concentration: vit c crystal or powder?thk u

  10. Sue permalink
    February 13, 2014

    I have used vitamin c crystals to destroy basal cell skin cancer. I have been prone to small BCC for many years and after tiring of being under the knife or suffering through chemical treatment tried making a paste with vitamin c and tap water. It has worked, much to the surprise of my dermatologist!

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